A cleft palate or lip is among the most common birth defects in America, with a rate of close to one in 700 children affected. Children who suffer from these defects often struggle physically, emotionally and socially as they age, so it’s imperative that parents address the cleft early on. At Dental Health Associates, we provide a combination of techniques that prepare your child for surgical reconstruction to repair the cleft palate.
How Does A Cleft Palate Form?
Early on in a pregnancy, the lips and mouth fuse to form the upper face. In normal development, the fusion creates a barrier between the mouth and the nasal cavities – called the palate – and shapes a smooth upper lip. In babies with clefts, the lips and mouth don’t fuse correctly, leaving gaps in the palate or lip. Boys are most likely to develop a cleft lip, while girls are more likely to develop a cleft palate.
Why Do Clefts Form?
Many factors influence prenatal development and may lead to this condition. The leading cause is genetics, especially among Native Americans, Latinos and people of Asian descent. Other causes include environmental factors. Some of these would include particular anti-seizure medications, a lack of important prenatal vitamins and smoking.
What Problems Arise with a Cleft Palate?
The clefts can cause some potentially serious problems for children. Some of these problems would include:
- Feeding: A cleft palate creates a space that leads directly from the mouth into the nasal cavity. Newborns may struggle to feed, because their food enters their nose when they try to breathe.
- Ears: Fluid buildup is a real concern for children with a cleft palate and, over time, fluid in the ear will result in damage to the middle ear, putting the child at greater risk of infection and potential hearing loss.
- Teeth: Defects in the palate lead to a range of dental problems that will affect your child for many years. Children with cleft palates often have teeth that come in irregularly, or don’t come in at all. Twisting, slanting, and crowding of the teeth is common in baby teeth and should be addressed before they affect the permanent teeth.
- Speech: Clefts affect speech patterns by failing to close the space between the inside of the mouth and the nasal cavity. This creates a nasal sound when the child speaks. In addition, the child may struggle to make certain consonant sounds.
- Confidence: Speech problems, a visible gap in the lip, misshapen teeth, and other factors can erode your child’s self-confidence, and make them a target for teasing, especially at a young age.
What Is The Solution?
At Dental Heath Associates, we use a two-step solution to repair the cleft.
- Nasoalveolar Molding (NAM)– Until the 1990s, surgical cleft repairs were often unsuccessful, because the size of the cleft was too great to close in a single surgery. Patients would endure several procedures, leaving large scars and a partial cleft behind. NAM solves this problem by shrinking the size of the cleft when a child is still a newborn. We create a plastic mold that fits inside your child’s mouth, which reshapes the mouth, lips and nose over time. Your child wears the mold all day, every day until the cleft is a fraction of its original size, and can be closed in a single procedure.
Dr. David Allen and the rest of our team have been using the NAM solution for more than five years, and we’ve seen incredible results. We are currently one of two dental practices in Wisconsin to offer the service and we continue to refine the procedure and develop new innovations every year.
- Surgery – When the time comes for surgery, a plastic surgeon closes the gap in the gums and ensures an open nasal cavity. The resulting scarring is smaller than with other procedures, but the child will need follow up care to track their teeth and jaw development as they age.
We sympathize with the physical and emotional toll a cleft palate has on a child, and we are proud supporters of charities that provide reparative surgeries throughout the world. Operation Smile and Smile Train have been to more than 60 different countries, and done hundreds of thousands of surgeries to change the lives of needy children. Consider a small donation to revolutionize the life of someone less fortunate. Contact us to learn more about cleft palates or to schedule an appointment for your child. The earlier you address the issue, the easier it is to fix.